This is Labor Day weekend here in the United States which usually marks the end of the summer camping season for many. Fortunately for us, we get to continue RVing and head south for the winter. I’m extremely grateful that I’m able to follow my feathered friends and migrate with the seasons, but I’m not ready to move on … just yet.
Prior to this summer, it had been years since I’d spent any time in northern Wisconsin let alone stay this far north into September. And this past week has served as a reminder as to why the camping season comes to an end after Labor Day Weekend in the north woods. It has been downright cold at night. I’m talking in the 45 degree Fahrenheit range with daytime temps struggling to hit 70 degrees F. Plus, the leaves are already showing signs that fall is just around the corner as they tease us with hints of gold and red. And it’s only the first few days in September! That said, there is a raw beauty to the landscape and a clean crispness to the air that I’m absolutely loving. Bring on the sweatshirts!
We really enjoyed this town!
So, with summer weather clearly in the rearview mirror, my thoughts drift back to some great finds that Al and I discovered this season … one of which was Ashland, Wisconsin.
Located in northern Wisconsin along the shores of Lake Superior’s Chequamegon Bay lies an interesting little town called Ashland. It was once a center for lumbering, mining, and Great Lakes shipping but today Ashland is a popular destination for tourists and anglers and is known as “The Historic Mural Capital in Wisconsin”.
This community of around 8,000 has eloquently preserved its history by painting murals on many of the downtown buildings creating a fascinating walkable history book. In fact, it may have more murals per capita than any other place in the Midwest. There may be large cities with more murals over a wider area, but Ashland packs a concentrated punch of murals in the town’s center.
The murals in this south shore town are special to locals because they portray folks who once lived in this small community. Some of these people had an influential role in the town while others were merely everyday people who contributed to everyday life. You could easily take in most of the murals on foot in about an hour depending on how long you spend at each mural and how quickly you walk.
Images of Ashland … to enlarge photos, click on any image
Downtown Ashland. Brownstone buildings are popular.
Dhooge’ Store Mural
Bay Front Mural
This was my favorite – Asaph Whittlesey Mural
The Police Station in a beautiful Brownstone building
The tunnel walkway is not to be missed.
10 Things to do around Ashland
Go on a Mural walk downtown
Bike or hike the trails
Visit a waterfall
Cruise the Apostle Islands
Shop the historic town
Take a scenic drive
Visit an orchard and pick your own
Wonderful Bike Trail
We really enjoyed walking around the downtown area and admiring the murals, but we also discovered the town’s amazing bike trail. We don’t have bikes anymore so we stuck to hiking portions of the trail system. Sigh … this was one time I truly missed my bicycle. This bike trail is perfect for my kind of biking; paved and gentle hills.
The bike trail even passed right by our awesome Lake Superior lakefront campsite.
Bike trail passes right by our site
Love the bike trail
Al and I have been spending the summer on private property at his sister’s lakefront home near Hayward, Wisconsin. Not wanting to overstay our welcome, our plan all along was to do some out and back trips over the course of our three-month summer stay. We enjoyed a great trip down memory lane when we visited the north shore in Minnesota in July and we were hoping for an equally fun trip.
I had spent hours mapping out our journey into Michigan’s Upper Pennisula. Blog posts and campground reviews were read. Stops, sites, things to see and do were clearly noted in my notebook. We bid farewell to sister and brother-in-law with the intent of returning in 7-10 days.
Our first stop was in Ashland; only an hour and a half drive away from the family. This would be merely an overnight …. or so we thought. The drive to Ashland was scenic, well as scenic as the same lush forest on a two-lane road gets. Once we arrived in town, we quickly found and drove through the county park campground where I had planned on staying. Kreher Park Campground is a first-come, first-serve kind of place and we missed snagging the last site by mere minutes.
The other option was the small county park at the opposite end of town also first-come, first-serve. After talking to the camp host at Kreher Park, we didn’t have high hopes for finding an open spot in town that night but we decided to drive through Prentice Park Campground just to make sure there weren’t any openings.
Luck was on our side and we snagged the one and only open site which was also one of the best. Prentice Park only has a total of seven sites. One for the camp host and a couple of others were taken by monthly RVer’s leaving only four sites that rotate. So yeah, we sure got lucky.
The next morning, we returned to Kreher Park CG just as an RV was pulling out of a lakefront site. Score! Someone was doing a happy dance. Can you guess who? 😁 The previous folks also left behind a stake of firewood … more happy dancing.💃
That evening as the sunset over Lake Superior, Al and I enjoyed drinks while a lovely campfire kept us warm. Ah, life is good! That’s when Al asked, “Where are we going tomorrow?” “What do you mean?”, I quizzically responded. “Well, don’t you have a whole trip planned out for us to explore the U.P.?” “Oh yeah, that. How about we just stay here? And on that note, the plans were quickly changed!
So all those hours of trip planning were canceled in mere minutes. Ah, no regrets on my part. Camping along the shores of Lake Superior was a goal of mine since we pulled out of Phoenix at the end of May. All the notes are saved and archived for next summers excursion. Yeah, I have a feeling we’ll be back next year.
A note about Kreher Park Campground: it is a first-come, first-serve CG with E/W only and an onsite sloped dump station. Most sites are unlevel, mixed sizes, and gravel/grassy. There are local construction workers renting sites on a monthly basis which makes this small campground even more difficult to find an open site. Have a backup plan and Walmart is not it (no overnighting at the Walmart). There is boondocking at a boat landing near the power plant for $20 a night but the air smells from the plant. Unfortunately, there are not a lot of camping options around here for RVs of a larger size. Small travel trailers and tents rule in the north woods.
Campfires and happy hour!
The Best Drinking Water
One of the many reasons I wanted to camp near Lake Superior was for the drinking water. I grew up near Chicago and most municipalities in Chicagoland get their drinking water from Lake Michigan. Lake Superior and Lake Michigan are cold and deep and the water is clear and delicious.
These days, we find ourselves spending most of our time in Arizona and the local drinking water for most municipalities comes from the Colorado River … rich in minerals; minerals that cause calcification in our RV plumbing AND in our bodies. Intense filtering is necessary.
The moment we were set up at the Prentice Park Campground, Al opened our freshwater holding tank to let it drain (it was only a quarter full anyway). We then filled up with the excellent water at our campsite. Later, we were told the water came from an Artesian Well. This was the clearest and tastiest water that we’ve seen come out of a spiggot in years. It’s hysterical how Al and I are treating that fresh water in our tank as a precious commodity. “NO, you can’t use it to flush the toilet”, we both scream! 🤣
Turns out, there’s actually an Artesian Water fill-up station (not for RVs – you’ll need a campsite) at Prentice Park as well as at the Maslowski Beach along Highway 61. We filled up any empty or half-empty water containers we had in the RV. Seriously, this is the best water I’ve tasted in years and I’m so glad our freshwater tank is filled with this stuff.
A Cruise on Lake Superior
Our five days in the area were not only very relaxing but provided some fabulous sightseeing. High on my bucket list was a visit to the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. My previous visits to Bayfield (gateway to the Apostle Islands) were either filled with other adventures or the weather was somewhat inclement. Once again, we lucked out and enjoyed a perfect day for a cruise around the Apostle Islands. But I’ll share that in another post!
One of my favorite things about RV travel is the ability to spend extended time in diverse landscapes. This past winter, we were exploring the Sonoran Desert surrounded by the majestic saguaro cactus, and this summer, we find ourselves living on lakefront property surrounded by a lush landscape full of tall trees and a forest floor carpeted with ferns and wildflowers. Talk about extremes!
I just love it when the stars align and my days are filled with rainbows and unicorns. Ah, life is good in the Northwoods … that is when one of their insane storms isn’t rolling through!
When we decided to spend our summer with family in northern Wisconsin, Al and I weren’t sure if we’d enjoy spending three months back in the Midwest. After all, since moving west in 1992, the most time we had spent back here was in 2015 when we only lastest five weeks. Yep, after five weeks back in Illinois and Wisconsin, we ended up canceling a bunch of reservations so we could high-tale it back to Colorado.
Although we enjoyed that Midwestern excursion in ’15, I think our mindset at the time was more interested in exploring places west of the Rocky Mountains. These days, I’m feeling a draw to return to my roots and some old stomping ground favorites.
Folks come to Hayward and the surrounding area to enjoy the abundance of lakes and relaxing way of life. As a child, I spent quite a few family summer vacations in this part of Wisconsin, and they were always so much fun that my siblings and I couldn’t wait for dad’s vacation time so we could return to our favorite lake and campground on the Chippewa Flowage. Ah, such fond memories and now we have family that actually live just down the road from that favorite place … with room for us to park our RV. How sweet is that!
During summer months, fishing, swimming, and strolling Hayward’s small-town streets are just a few fun activities in this former lumbering town. Hayward keeps its past alive by hosting the Lumberjack World Championships each summer. And guess what? We had the pleasure of attending this entertaining competition. This was definitely a first for me! Who knew there was an International Timber Sports Competition? I know, I didn’t. And it’s even televisioned on ESPN.
Lumberjack World Championships
The Lumberjack competition is a three-day celebration of timber sports with over 120 competitors from around the world. Competitors are from five different countries; Australia, New Zealand, Czech Republic, Canada, and the United States. There are 24 events including logrolling, boom running, sawing, chopping, axe throwing, and speed climbing.
Log Rolling: Lumberjacks and Lumberjills (yes, “lumberjill” … how cute is that!) run atop spinning, floating logs in an attempt to topple their opponents. If opponents don’t fall off after a specific time, they switch to a smaller log. Difficulty increases as the logs get smaller.
Boom Running: Competitors sprint atop a “boom” (a series of linked, floating logs) from one dock to another and back. The logs spin and dip. This is a test of speed and balance.
Sawing: Sawdust will fly when lumberjacks and Lumberjills attack lathe-turned white pine in a head-to-head competition using a crosscut saw or a souped-up chainsaw in a variety of fast and furious events.
Chopping: Lumberjacks and Lumberjills sharpen up their axes to compete in the high intensity standing chop, underhand chop, springboard chop, and standing block chop.
Throwing: Precision is the name of the game as competitors throw a double-bit axe as close to the center of a target as possible from a set distance away … bullseye!
Speed Pole Climbing: Lumberjacks go head to head in the breathtaking speed pole climb as they scale a 60′ or 90′ pole and seemingly fall to earth in record time.
Fortunately, the threatening storm clouds passed just to the north of Lake Hayward allowing clear skies to prevail for the championship to begin on time. “Yoho!” This was a really fun and interesting sporting event. The competition moved rapidly keeping everyone entertained. At various times throughout the event, spectators could be heard yelling “Yoho!”.
The story behind the “Yoho” goes something like this… Back at lumber camp (many moons ago), one of the lumberjacks needed to visit the outhouse. The weather was clear when he first entered, but upon exiting the outhouse the forest had become covered in a thick layer of fog. The fog was so thick that it was impossible for him to find his way back to camp. So he yelled out “yoho” to his fellow lumberjacks who in turn yelled “yoho” back. The yelling of “yoho” back and forth helped guide the lumberjack back to camp. “Yoho!” 😏
A special treat
Ah, when those stars align … seeing wildlife in their environment is always a special treat and my encounters with the Loons this summer has been amazing but seeing a bald eagle was equally spectacular.
The first time I saw this gal/guy fly by was during happy hour. There we were, sitting on the back screened-in porch on the upper level of the lake house enjoying our margaritas when a huge bird swooped down from the top of the house and flew by us at eye level. We could literally hear the movement of her wings. I was giddy with excitement. I had no idea that this would be the first of many eagle sightings during my summer jaunt to the Northwoods.
We are absolutely loving our time and campsite on private property this summer. Not only do we have a lake view, but we also have hookups and access to a house AND boat, not to mention special time with family. Yep, I’m loving those boat rides. But there is a downside to country living, our cell phones and hotspot do not work. Well, I guess somedays that might be construed as a plus, but other days it does present some challenges. Thankfully, my sister-in-law has a landline and a pretty good internet service, so we aren’t totally disconnected … oh, and cable TV. We were able to get caught up and watch the final season of Game of Thrones. Pretty important stuff, ya know!
Heading into town is about a 25-minute drive and once in Hayward, I can find almost anything I need at the local grocery store or Walmart. But Main Street should not be overlooked.
The town of Hayward is quaint.
I love the interesting buildings in Hayward
Hayward has some tasty restaurants.
What’s a tourist town without T-shirt shops? Of course, I had to add to my collection!
Strolling the quaint shops and taking in the interesting architecture is equally entertaining. There are also plenty of restaurants, bars, and treat shops to satisfy anyone’s taste buds. Of course, being the T-shirt addict that I am, I felt compelled to add to the local economy by not passing up the opportunity to add to my collection.
Oh, and I bought a pair of super comfy Teva sandals at one of the local shops, Glik’s. My favorite Merrell’s were wearing out and needed to be replaced. I’m loving this new sandal and have been wearing them almost exclusively ever since I bought them. I found it pleasantly surprising that some of these small-town shops here in Hayward as well as Grand Marais, MN offer such a great selection of trail shoes and offer styles that I didn’t see in the big city of Phoenix. Hmm, do I dare go shopping some more?
All good things must come to an end
I can’t believe that it’s already mid-August and our summer is quickly coming to an end. For those of us that have been RVing for a while, we all know the ups and downs of the RV lifestyle. I usually cringe when I hear people say, “Your living the dream” because there are many times RV life is more like a nightmare than a dream, but this summer has really been a dream for us. We didn’t do the traveling we thought we’d do this summer. Instead, we settled into lakehouse living and enjoying our time with family and that’s fine by us. Traveling all the time can get tiring.
Perhaps we’ll return next summer and do that exploring we thought we’d do this year. Ah, time will tell! In the meantime, I’ll savor the last weeks of summer in the Northwoods before we head back to the desert southwest. Are there more unicorns and rainbows in my future? Stay tuned!
Some of our best travel adventures were conjured up around a campfire. I love sitting around a campfire with friends sharing past and future travel tales. More times than not, those discussions lead to great ideas centered around RVing. We recently had a fun get together with folks that are huge Cubs Fans which lead to more RVing ideas; combining two passions.
For many people around the country, few things are more appealing than a summer ballpark tour. Baseball may have declined somewhat in popularity, but it remains America’s pastime, and its ties to the summer season are unbreakable for many. And for that reason, it occurred to us that this same idea of a ballpark tour might just make for the perfect RV trip for a lot of families and individuals alike.
For the true baseball fanatics out there, it may be appealing to take this idea all the way and visit every single big-league stadium in the country over the course of a summer. My sister and one of her sons are attempting to do this. That’s awfully ambitious for most people though, so perhaps a cross-country itinerary featuring five beautiful and significant parks might be more feasible.
1. Oracle Park – San Francisco, California
Consistently ranked among the best ballparks in America, Oracle Park is tough to beat. The stadium (formerly known as AT&T Park) sits right on the edge of the San Francisco Bay and may be best known to a lot of baseball fans as the place where Barry Bonds once rained home runs into “McCovey Cove” over the right-field stands. Fans used to cluster in the bay in kayaks in the hopes of retrieving one of his legendary blasts. Even now though it’s a beautiful, fun place to watch a game, and it helps that the home team Giants tend to be very competitive.
2. Coors Field – Denver, Colorado
The drive from San Francisco to Denver is no joke, but you can spread it out over a few days and enjoy some lovely sights in Nevada and Utah along the way. For that matter, once you get into Colorado, you can even take some time to tour the delightful mountain towns that I’ve written about before. But to continue the ballpark tour, you should ultimately end up in Denver, where you can watch the Rockies at Coors Field. There’s just something special about seeing baseball in such a laid-back beautiful city. And for many, it also won’t hurt that Denver’s famous craft beer scene has pumped some excellent options into the stadium concessions (even if the venue is named after a big-name beer).
3. Wrigley Field – Chicago, Illinois
From Denver, it’s about a two-day drive to Chicago, and it’s not the most eventful of drives. However, stops in Lincoln, Nebraska and Iowa City, Iowa – both lovely towns – can break up the drive before you eventually reach the Windy City. There, you’ll be treated to a game at the most historic, and perhaps most beloved stadium in Major League Baseball: the Cubs’ Wrigley Field. Known for exuding a palpable sense of the past, as well as for its unique, ivy-covered outfield wall, Wrigley is a place even casual sports fans should strive to visit at least once in life.
As long as you’re in town, you may as well visit Guaranteed Rate Field, the home of the Chicago White Sox. It doesn’t have the charm or history of Wrigley, and lately, the Cubs have been the better team, but it’s a comfortable modern stadium, and perfectly pleasant on a nice day.
4. PNC Park – Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
With the right timing, you can drive on to Pittsburgh in either one long single day – or if you’d prefer, you can always make a stop in Michigan or Ohio along Lake Erie (or stop in to see the Cleveland Indians as you pass through!). Either way, Pittsburgh’s PNC Park is a great next stop for a few reasons. One is that Pennsylvania is one of just a few states to have recently legalized online sports betting, which adds a whole new type of fun to see a game. You can find MLB game odds online and place a bet on a Pirates game, and even a tiny amount can give you a feeling most American sports fans have never had. The other reason to consider PNC Park though, whether or not you’re interested in the betting angle, is that it’s simply one of the prettiest stadiums, in any sport, in America.
5. Fenway Park – Boston, Massachusetts
If you’re all about the baseball and you’re enjoying the trip at this point, there’s something to be said for passing through a number of East Coast cities at the tail end of the tour. From Pittsburgh, you can drive just four hours to Baltimore to enjoy a game at the low-key but pleasant Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Then you can pass back through Pennsylvania, seeing the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park, before hitting both New York destinations – Citi Field in Queens for the Mets, and Yankee Stadium in the Bronx for the Yankees (though keep in mind having an RV in some of these East Coast cities won’t be easy). Whether or not you take this multi-city detour though, you should wrap up your trip at Fenway Park, where the Red Sox play. It’s not the most comfortable of stadiums, but it’s the only one that might match Wrigley Field for history, meaning there are few better places to toast America’s pastime.
RV Park ideas in Chicago and Denver
When visiting Chicago, we usually stay about an hours drive outside of the city and then take the train into Chicago. The Paul Wolff Campground is a relaxing spot to return to after a day of fun in the big city.
Denver – We’ve stayed at a bunch of places around Denver and anyone of them would make a great home base to explore and take in a baseball game … Chatfield State Park, Cherry Creek State Park, Bear Creek Lake Regional Park, Dakota Ridge RV Park.
Our shopping excursions and explorations to Duluth, Minnesota served as the impetus for us to take a vacation from our vacation. Although our campsite this summer on private property along a pristine lake in northern Wisconsin is beyond nice, Lake Superiors Northshore was calling. Al and I had not returned to this part of the country since the early 1990s and the pull to return was strong.
After a little research, I made a reservation at the Burlington Bay Campground in the town of Two Harbors, Minnesota. The easy thirty-minute drive northeast of Duluth made this the perfect location for our Northshore explorations. Since our reservation was made on rather short notice, I was only able to book three nights. We’ll take it! Oh, how we would’ve loved staying longer. Next time!
Once settled into our campsite, it was time to explore. Two Harbors, Minnesota is nestled along the beautiful north shore of Lake Superior. It’s a small quaint lakeside town rich in history and conveniently located to a bunch of scenic sites. It’s also home to a couple of historic sites that are found right in town.
Historic sites in Two Harbors
First lit in 1892, the historic Two Harbors Light Station is the oldest operating lighthouse in Minnesota. She consists of a two-story, square, redbrick dwelling, and a twelve-foot-square light tower attached between the gables. She no longer has her original lens (unfortunately), but still boasts an interesting twenty-four-inch aerobeacon. These days the lighthouse is in private hands, but she’s beautifully maintained & definitely worth a visit.
(To enlarge photos in a gallery, simply click on any image)
For train enthusiasts, the Depot Museum is just down the road from the lighthouse and is housed in a historic brick building built in 1907. Today the building serves as a museum but was formerly headquarters for the Duluth and Iron Range Railroad which played a prominent role in the development of the iron ore industry throughout the region.
Towering strange man-made structures
Although my goal was to visit the lighthouse, once I had the truck parked, my attention was drawn across Agate Bay to some strange looking structures. The structures are docks that are made out of steel. They’re 1,300 feet long and seven stories tall.
The immense size of the docks allows ships to pull alongside some 112 chutes where the iron ore is then deposited into the hulls of the boats. These days, about 12 million tons of taconite are shipped out yearly headed south to the lower Great Lakes where it is then unloaded, heated up in blast furnaces, and eventually converted into steel.
The first dock was built in 1883 and by 1938 there were six fully operating docks. The docks were a major source of iron ore during World War II. By the mid-1950’s the docks were shipping out about 50 million tons annually, but this all came to an end in the 1960’s when iron ore was mined out. Area miners then began mining taconite as their primary source of metal. The development of taconite lead to the reopening of three docks in Two Harbors, and two of them are still in operation today.
Visitors can view the docks anywhere along the shores of Agate Bay and get an up-close look at some of the massive ships that enter/exit the harbor. And I thought our combination of truck and RV was long. How’d ya like to park this big guy? These ships are seriously huge!
The real reason for our visit to Two Harbors, Minnesota was to allow Al and me the opportunity to travel a route that we used to drive every summer during our first few years of dating and marriage. Al and I worked in the airline industry at the time and could’ve flown anywhere in the world for free or for mere pennies, but for our yearly vacations, we wanted nothing to do with flying, hotels, or dining out. After all, that’s what our careers were all about.
So, as an escape from our work lifestyle, we packed up our camping gear, strapped a canoe down on the roof of our vehicle, and drove north … more than 650 miles north of Chicago. The first couple of years, we ventured into western Ontario, Canada, but then we discovered the Boundary Waters Canoe Area in Minnesota’s Arrowhead. And from then on, the Gunflint Trail in northeastern Minnesota became our summer vacation spot. Most times we camped while other times we splurged and rented a cabin.
So, our first full day camped in Two Harbors, we quickly set off retracing our driving route from years past. We found it amazing and rather exciting that very little had changed over the past umpteen years. There was a part of us that felt like we were just here yesterday and another part that felt like it was a lifetime ago … just another chapter in a life well-lived.
If we didn’t do anything else on our little excursion but visit two key stops, I’d be happy. My must-sees were the Split Rock Lighthouse and the town of Grand Marais.
As you drive along Highway 61, glancing to the south is Lake Superior; the largest of the five Great Lakes and the largest freshwater lake in the world. It’s also one of the chilliest lakes. A rocky cliff shoreline serves as a reminder that these waters can be dangerous, which is why there are so many lighthouses on Lake Superior.
Replica – Split Rock Lighthouse in Lake Havasu, AZ
The Split Rock Lighthouse is situated on Lake Superior’s Northshore and is one of the most photographed lighthouses in the nation. I’ve always been intrigued by this lighthouse and images of it remind me of my mother. She loved lighthouse and Split Rock was one of her favorites. I was extremely excited when I discovered Lake Havasu built a beautiful replica. Now granted, it’s a fraction of the size of the real lighthouse, but wonderful nonetheless.
The Split Rock Lighthouse and State Park features a visitor center with a museum store, a lakeshore picnic area, a tent-only campground, a trail center, and hiking trails. Photographing this lighthouse has been a long-time dream of mine, but unfortunately, weather and timing conditions weren’t the best for anything better than a few snapshots. I was fine with that. The views were stunning!
Waterfalls and more waterfalls
While Lake Superior lies on the south side of the highway, dense forest and hills lie on the north side. Considering the north shore can receive well over 90 inches of snow during an average winter, all that snowmelt has to go somewhere creating some spectacular waterfalls. The waterfalls alone make visiting Minnesota’s north shore worthwhile.
The forecast for our day excursion consisted of cloudy skies with a 40% chance of rain which should’ve been perfect for photographing waterfalls … or so I hoped. Well, they couldn’t have been more wrong! The day turned into a beautiful day with totally clear blue skies and warmer than expected … not the conditions I was looking for to photograph waterfalls (much to Al’s delight). So, we changed our focus for the day and only stopped at the Falls at Cross River (around mile marker 78). These falls can be seen from the highway, thus requiring very little walking.
The day turned rather warm, humid, and buggy which did not put us in the mood for any hiking. Therefore, Gooseberry Falls State Park and Tettegouche State Park will remain on my must-see list for a future visit. Gosh, that list seems to be getting longer, not shorter! How does that happen?😏
If you love waterfalls and hiking, then the drive from Duluth, Minnesota to Thunder Bay, Ontario Canada is definitely an adventure to consider. The towns of Portage and Thunder Bay have some rather impressive waterfalls that should not be missed. This is already on my list for our potential itinerary for next summer. An unexpected kitchen remodel kind of curtailed our travels this summer (a forthcoming post is in the works).
It appears, most of the state park campgrounds along Hwy 61, do not offer hookups and are not big RV friendly. This is a tenters paradise and also perfect for cyclists biking the Gitchi-Gami State Trail. But for RV hookups along Lake Superior, we’ll just need to venture a little further down the road …
Grand Marais, Minnesota
The artsy little town of Grand Marais (pronounced – Grand Ma-ray) boasts a population of fewer than 1,500 people. It serves as the gateway to the Gunflint Trail leading visitors into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. When Al and I would vacation on Gunflint Lake, we would have to return to Grand Marais once or twice during our vacation to shop and replenish provisions.
Since our resort was an hours drive north of Grand Marais, we always made a day of it by strolling shops and going out to lunch. On this day, we happened to bring a picnic lunch and enjoyed eating it on a bench overlooking the harbor. After lunch, I took the interesting stroll out to the lighthouse and then we hit a few shops.
The walk out to the lighthouse was interesting.
Walking out to the lighthouse wasn’t a problem when there wasn’t much traffic.
Wow! When was the last time you saw this sign? This store has a little big of everything including a great selection of Merrell’s and other quality shoes.
Typical tourist stuff plus more.
Enjoying lunch overlooking the harbor. It was a beautiful day.
The town is small and after walking around for maybe an hour, we’d seen just about everything and it was time to retrace our steps back to Two Harbors but not before checking out the local RV Park. The town of Grand Marais manages an RV park that is big rig friendly with hookups and sits along the shores of Lake Superior. It’s nothing special and the sites are rather close together, but you can’t beat the location or views.
Burlington Bay Campground
We found this campground in Two Harbors to be the perfect place for us to use as a base for our Northshore explorations. We could even walk into town from the campground if we wanted to. There’s easy access to the kayaking beach and wooded trail along the lakeshore. It’s also an easy bike ride to the lighthouse, Ore Docks, and town restaurants.
There are four sections in the campground. We chose a site in the David Dill Addition which is the newest section and the only area in the campground that isn’t wooded – it’s in a meadow without trees. Yeah, we don’t like trees, or rather our RV isn’t a fan of tree branches. We loved our unobstructed view of Lake Superior and would definitely stay here again, but there was a downside regarding our sewer connection.
We’re in site #2 and town is visible from our site. And yes, we encountered a couple of severe storms during our stay curtailing my photo outings.
David Dill Addition – tiered sites with views of Lake Superior
Burlington Bay Campground, Two Harbors, MN. Site #2B
The sites are tiered in the David Dill Addition offering nice lake views from all the sites and even two sewer connections allowing RVers to optimize those views. There’s one connection at the rear of the site for those needing to back in like trailers and 5th wheels and another connection closer to the front of the site for motorhomes that choose to pull straight in to enjoy the view out of the front windshield.
Those of us in the first row (sites 1B-12B) had trouble connecting to the rear sewer due to the height of the pipe. Al and I were in site 2 and fortunately, the folks in site 3 were also in a 5th wheel backed in allowing us to hook up to the intended motorhome sewer for site 3. Trust me, I was originally not a happy camper when the rear sewer pipe was sticking out of the ground so far that it was impossible for gravity to work with the sewer hose. The gal in the office said it was out of their control (appears they get a lot of complaints). The county health department determined the height. What’s interesting is the other tiers had properly cut sewer pipes. 🤔
Even with the sewer issue and unlevel sites, we would return and definitely relished not having to worry about roof damage from trees … been there, done that, and bought the T-shirt! But if you like trees, consider staying in one of the other loops.
Worth mentioning; we enjoyed picking up some sweets at Louise’s Place. Located in downtown Two Harbors not far from the Depot Museum and Paul Van Hoven Park. Louise’s is much like a local coffee shop offering breakfast and lunch along with homemade breads and sweets. We had to control ourselves from revisiting the next day.
If you love nature and beautiful landscapes, then you’ll enjoy visiting Lake Superior’s Northshore. With eight State Parks, a variety of National and State Forests, community parks, wayside rests, public beaches, and four-season trails, you’re bound to find something to make any visit worthwhile. We loved returning to an area that will always hold a special place in our hearts!
Spending the summer in a place nowhere near a major city has its pluses and minuses. Our first ten days in Wisconsin’s Northwoods whizzed by. We had no trouble adjusting to small-town living or lake life … well, except for that annoying buzzing sound of Wisconsin’s state bird – the mosquito. 🤣 Although, I think Minnesota shares that honor. Boy, they grow’em big up here, and there’s nothing more annoying than laying in bed at night hearing that buzzing sound around your ear.
But lake living is awesome. Yeah, living on lakefront property is pretty sweet, and we are most definitely enjoying every minute staying with family in this picturesque spot.
And speaking of family, upon our arrival the third week in June, Al’s sister asked for some suggestions in remodeling her kitchen. Well, suggestions turned into action and Al and I dove in with both feet. But finding materials and certain paint products would require a trip(s) to the big city of Duluth, Minnesota, a two-hour drive away from Hayward, Wisconsin.
A two-hour drive to an unfamiliar city is no problem for this traveling duo. Our shopping list was made, Google maps was reviewed, and the GPS was set up as a backup.
However, I’d be remiss if I didn’t add that this would not be our first time driving through Duluth. It would be our first time stopping. In years past, we drove through this city every summer on our way to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area located north of the little town of Grand Marais.
We’re having a great time this summer traveling down memory lane as we revisit sites from vacations past!
Exploring Duluth, Minnesota
At the westernmost tip of beautiful Lake Superior and along an international harbor sits Duluth, Minnesota. During the past six and a half weeks, I’ve had the opportunity to visit this historic city a few times, and with each visit, I’ve discovered this jewel of Minnesota offers more than we ever expected.
With each sojourn, we do our necessary shopping and then set off exploring. I won’t bore you with the shopping details. Let’s just say Home Depot, Menard’s, Sam’s Club, and Super One Foods usually has everything we’re looking for and then some. If errands take us longer than expected, I’m able to get my Chipotle fix for lunch. Oh, and we even managed to stop in at the Duluth Trading Company just so we can say we stopped and shopped.
Canal Park is the entertainment hub of Duluth. The old warehouse district has been converted into an attraction offering an array of restaurants, shops, cafes, and hotels. The building conversions began in the 1980s in an attempt to promote tourism. They did a great job and I’d say the project is a huge success if crowds are any indication. This is a must-see part of the city.
A ship going under the Aerial Lift Bridge
Standing near the bridge as it’s raising.
Some of Canal Park’s attractions include a 4.2-mile long lake walk, a lighthouse pier, the Lake Superior Maritime Visitor Center, the Great Lakes Aquarium, a floating ship museum, and the famous Aerial Lift Bridge, Duluth’s landmark. Watching vessels from around the world enter/exit Duluth’s port is interesting to watch. You don’t realize how huge these ships/barges are until you stand near one.
Parking near Canal Park can be a challenge for those of us driving big trucks. There are quite a few parking lots available for a modest fee of $3.00, but the lots are designed for regular size vehicles.
Leif Erikson Park
When I heard Duluth had a rose garden, I just had to see it for myself. I adore flowers!
Once again parking was an issue for us and we had to park several blocks away and walk. Ah, we needed the exercise anyway. The metered street parking was a bargain at twenty-five cents for 40 minutes. We loved the old buildings and partially brick-paved streets.
The garden did not disappoint. Unbeknownst to us, the blooms were at their peak according to locals (mid-July).
The Duluth Rose Garden is an extension of the Leif Erikson Park and offers a stunning arrangement of more than 3,000 rose bushes and other flowering plants.
Even my husband enjoyed walking around and reading the names of the various rose bushes. The park sits high above the lakeshore offering a beautiful view of Lake Superior and Canal Park in the distance.
Beyond the rose garden, we were even able to take a paved trail down to the shore of Lake Superior.
This park is a gem even though I had trouble finding it. I pride myself in my navigation skills, but feeling defeated, I resorted to the use of the GPS. In retrospect, I should’ve just followed the signs to the Enger Golf Course.
Ah, but once we arrived, it was all worth the getting turned around. Enger Park Tower and Gardens sits 600 feet above Lake Superior and provides a panoramic view of Duluth and the harbor. This park offers another stunning garden that planted a perpetual smile on my face.
Having spent the last twenty-some years living in either Colorado or Arizona where gardening is quite different than in the Midwest, I haven’t been around the shade-loving hostas in years. There are hundreds of hostas, perennials, and nearly 4,000 daffodils planted in Enger Park, plus a lovely Japanese garden.
The park and adjacent golf course were developed on land purchased with money donated by West End furniture dealer Bert Enger in 1921. His 1931 Will included more money for the park’s development, and in 1939 Enger Tower was built in the park in his honor. Today the park includes the American-Japanese Peace Bell, a gift from Duluth’s sister city of Ohara-Isumi, and serves as a popular location for weddings.
Al and I enjoyed sitting on a bench overlooking Duluth harbor and Canal Park. I wanted to stay for sunset, but alas, we had a two-hour drive to return home. So, home it was.
Next – a vacation from our vacation.
These visits to Duluth were never long enough. Thus, a plan was hatched. I’ll share more Northshore adventures in my next post.
Trivia: Originally settled by the Sioux and Chippewa, French fur traders and explorers Radisson and Groseilliers were perhaps the first white men to see the present site of Duluth, Minnesota. Following them was Daniel Greysolon, Sieur du Luth, the French adventurer for whom the city is named.
In 2014, Outdoor magazine held an online competition for the “best outdoor towns in America” and Duluth was the winner. Duluth topped 64 cities in a competition with six rounds of voting. Trailing second to Duluth was Provo, Utah. The 64 favorite towns ranged from mountain escapes to beachside getaways and powder hot spots with available outdoor recreation being the focus.
In Duluth, the summers are comfortable, and the winters are freezing, snowy, and windy. It’s partly cloudy year-round. Over the course of a year, the temperature varies from 7°F to 78°F and can dip below -15°F or above 88°F. Based on tourists, the best time of year to visit Duluth for warm-weather activities is from early July to late August.
During our short visits, we didn’t have time to explore any of the fabulous hiking/biking trails available, but I have read about them. It’s all about outdoor recreation in Duluth all year long. Although the locals love their winter activities every bit as much as activities the rest of the year, I’ll stick to visiting during the summer months. Considering I’ve become a winter desert dweller with reptile-like blood, I can’t imagine enjoying the harsh winter weather around here let alone driving the ice-covered hilly roads. Yep, Duluth is a great place to visit … in the summer … and maybe even the fall, but I’ll leave the windy, snowy, icy, below zero degrees Fahrenheit temps to the hearty locals!
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Our five days in South Dakota were over before we knew it, and before long, the RV wheels were rolling down the road heading toward our summer destination in northern Wisconsin. It was the third week in June and with severe storms coming and going throughout the Midwest, we opted to move quickly and not linger along the way. We also decided to stick with Interstate roads where feasible. We were on a mission to get to our summer home as soon as possible and avoid getting caught on the road in one of those nasty storms.
Whenever we travel through a major city, we try to plan on doing so on a weekend morning in hopes of avoiding any rush hour traffic or other heavy traffic. Although the drive through St. Paul, Minnesota on a Saturday morning was uneventful, I think the next time we drive through the area, we’ll take the truck/bypass route (494 to 694 back to 35E).
Once we made it to Hayward, Wisconsin, Al’s sister met us at the local Walmart so she could help direct us to her and her husband’s place, our home for the summer. We were really glad we followed her to the house because our GPS was just a smidgen off. Normally that’s not a problem with just our truck, but when pulling an RV things get a little more difficult especially when the roads are densely wooded and there’s no spot big enough for us to turn around.
The road that will eventually lead us to Al’s sister’s place.
That’s some serious vegetation.
Our home for the summer
The Driveway 😯
(To enlarge a photo in a gallery, simply click on any image)
The Happy Hooker
After a relaxing first day at our new RV campsite, it was time for some summer fun. High on our agenda was visiting the Happy Hooker. A few miles down the heavily tree-lined road from our RV site on private property is a cute little store called the Happy Hooker Bait and Tackle shop which is like an old fashioned country store that has a little bit of everything.
In addition to a large selection of fishing tackle & bait, they have gasoline, ice, beer, liquor, clothing, gifts, groceries, and most importantly … bug repellent. Just about anything you might need in a pinch with the convenience of not having to drive the thirty-minutes into the town of Hayward.
It was here that Al and I purchased our Wisconsin fishing licenses for the summer. Yep, the Happy Hooker is all about fishing. What did you think I was talking about?
That first week back in the Midwest took a bit of adjusting. First off, the bugs. Boy, I’d forgotten how annoying mosquitos are and as much as I tried to stay away from the harsh bug repellent, that first tick bite had me grabbing a can of spray-on Deep Woods Off. Yeah, bring on the “Deet“.
How many lakes does Wisconsin have?
Water recreation during the summer in northern Wisconsin is huge and the state is home to more than 11,000 lakes. With approximately 1 million acres of lakes to choose from, it’s no wonder that folks from the Chicago and Milwaukee areas flock to their favorite lake for a summer vacation, or better yet, they actually own a second home on lakefront property for regular weekend getaways. Who doesn’t dream of owning lakefront property? (Ok, maybe those of you who prefer oceanfront property 😄)
Growing up in the Chicago suburbs, our family summer vacations were always spent at a campground on a picturesque lake, usually in Wisconsin. One of our family favorites was on the Chippewa Flowage just outside of Hayward, Wisconsin. We had a popup trailer at the time and my dad had a fishing buddy that would regularly join us so he could bring up our boat.
When my sister-in-law and her husband moved up to Hayward, Wisconsin, from northern Illinois, I couldn’t wait to visit them and revisit some of my childhood stomping grounds.
All that water not only provides a great deal of recreation, but it also provides a water source to an abundance of wildlife. When Al and I decided to spend our summer in northern Wisconsin, high on my wishlist was capturing a nice image of a Loon, one of my favorite birds. Not only are they a beautiful bird, but their sound is so unique. There’s nothing like a quiet morning on the water in a canoe listening to their calls.
Although we no longer own a canoe, we do have a pontoon boat at our disposal this summer … perfect for lake cruising and fishing. During one of our boat rides, I noticed something white in the tall grasses near the shoreline. Initially, I assumed it was a plastic (Walmart) bag and directed Al to get near so we could retrieve it and dispose of it properly. Before getting too close to shore and possibly getting the boat prop tangled in weeds, I used my camera’s lens to zoom in and confirm that it was indeed a plastic bag.
Surprise, surprise, surprise! It was not garbage but rather a nesting Loon. To say I was giddy with excitement would be an understatement. Al turned the boat so we wouldn’t get near the nest and disturb the beautiful Loon. Loons only have one or two chicks and the last thing we wanted to do was stress the mama and cause her to leave the nest.
Al slowed the boat and for the next ten minutes, we cruised by her a few times. With my 600mm zoom and a little crop in processing, I was rather pleased with a few of my images. For the first couple of weeks in July, every outing on the boat included a slow cruise past Lily the Loon.
We knew hatching time was near when her partner was easy to spot. Normally loons dive when a boat gets near them, but one evening, it appeared Papa Loon was becoming very protective and refused to dive or get out of the way of boat traffic (which is thankfully rather light around here). This forced boaters to go around him to avoid potentially hitting him. Most boaters, like us, slowed down to capture a few photos of this rare treat. Guess I’m not the only loonie one around here.
It was thrilling to have Mr. Loon swim right alongside our boat.
Trivia; The $1 Canadian coin is nicknamed the “Loonie” – derived from the picture of a solitary loon on one side of the coin. Canadian’s have the coolest currency. Eh!
More wildlife sightings
Although my encounters with the Loons have made every mosquito, fly, and tick bite worth hanging out in the northwoods, I encountered another wildlife first. I’ll save that for a another post.
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I’m sure most of us have childhood memories of family vacations, and some of those vacations were more fun than others. One of my most memorable and fun childhood vacations was in South Dakota. The picturesque lakes, rolling landscape, granite boulders, and interesting wildlife, left an indelible impression on a young fourteen-year-old me from the flatland of Illinois.
Thirty-some years later, I experienced one of the best mother/daughter road trips to South Dakota. My daughter and I shared more laughs and mishaps during that five-day excursion, so much so, that we still talk about that trip today. And then several years later, I shared an amazing visit to the Black Hills with my husband and in mid-June of ’19, we returned again.
So, perhaps it’s obvious why the Black Hills in South Dakota is one of my favorite places I’ve visited. It’s all about sharing memorable experiences and explorations with loved ones, and what fond memories I have from all my visits. So, let’s return, but where to start?
How many days should I spend in South Dakota?
Whether you plan on stopping in South Dakota’s Black Hills on your way to your destination like we recently did, or it’s the main destination, be sure and plan enough time. We’ve never spent more than five days in the area on any given visit, and we were never ready to move on, but it all depends on your interests.
My favorite things to see and do in southwest South Dakota
1. At the top of my list is a scenic drive. I promise you won’t be disappointed. You’ll love taking in the landscape by driving a couple of very scenic roads, but be WARNED, these roads are not RV friendly … unless you’d like to turn your lovely RV roof into a convertible – which has happened, unfortunately.
The Peter Norbeck National Scenic Byway in the Black Hills of South Dakota is one of the most beautiful roads in the United States. Mix in America’s most patriotic monument (Mount Rushmore) and you have a never-to-be-forgotten road trip. Depending on the number of stops you make along the way, plan on spending 2-3 hours to drive this byway.
This 70-mile drive includes spiraling bridges, hairpin curves, granite tunnels, and awe-inspiring views. It’s roughly a figure-eight route, taking drivers through Custer State Park and passing by Mount Rushmore National Memorial. Several tunnels carved through the granite mountain not only provide a transportation passage but artistically frame the four faces on Mount Rushmore in the distance. These tunnels are one lane only and definitely have height and width restrictions. So, no RVs!
Needles Tunnel – a tour bus barely squeezes by.
This tunnel frames Mount Rushmore.
Just one of many one-lane tunnels in the Black Hills.
(To enlarge a photo in a gallery, simply click on any image)
Needles Eye Tunnel is just 8’ 4” wide and is one of three tunnels found on Needles Highway and is certainly the most famous, longest, and tallest. Its name comes from the remarkable granite spire located near the tunnel entrance. Cruising on Needles Highway isn’t about getting to the next destination, it’s about taking in the scenery. Spectacular sites to see along the way include Legion Lake, Stockade Lake, the Cathedral Spires, and Sylvan Lake. And if you’re lucky, you might even come across some cute mountain goats lingering alongside the road.
During our family road trip with the brand new motorhome back in the 1970s, my dad drove the motorhome through Needles Eye Tunnel much to my mom’s dismay. I credit my dad for talking to a ranger and measuring the motorhome a couple of times to verify that he’d fit. However, once he saw a tour bus go through it, there was no stopping him, but keeping the motorhome in the center of the tunnel was key. As kids, we thought dad was so cool!
2. Spend the day exploring a State Park and National Park. Custer State Park is home to a diverse range of wildlife including antelope, deer, bighorn sheep, coyote, prairie dogs, and burros (burros who like to beg for food), but the park is probably best known for the nation’s largest free-roaming buffalo herds.
When driving the 18-mile Wildlife Loop Road through Custer State Park, don’t be surprised that your travels may be detained by a “Buffalo Jam”. These large animals weighing in as much as 2,000 pounds walk wherever, whenever, and at their own pace, but can run as fast as 40 mph. So, if they feel like standing in the middle of the road, they do.
Got any food lady?
Beware! This is what not to do. Silly tourist! Remain in your vehicle.
What is the difference between buffalo and bison? Scientifically, the term “buffalo” is incorrect for the North American species; its proper Latin name is Bison. However, common usage has made the term “buffalo” an acceptable synonym for the American bison, and around here, they are called “buffalo”.
The park is also home to a wide variety of historic sites including French Creek, made famous when gold was discovered in the Black Hills, and President Calvin Coolidge’s Summer White House, the historic State Game Lodge.
Wind Cave National Park… if you’re looking to avoid crowds, you’ll be pleasantly surprised with this small national park. I’m not one for caves so I can’t share any info on the cave itself, but I can tell you, if you’re interested in seeing wildlife without the crowds in Custer State Park, then driving around Wind Cave National Park is for you. That’s exactly what I did and I definitely found beauty and wildlife.
The Antelope are abundant. (pronghorn is the proper name)
The prairie dogs are always entertaining.
I did attempt to hike to Lookout Point but stopped in my tracks when I encountered a lone buffalo alongside the trail. There I was hiking by myself wearing a bright pink hoodie. Mr. Buff stopped eating and just stared at me. My 135 pounds was no match for his 1,800+ pounds. So, I did the smartest thing by lowering my face to avoid eye contact and slowly retreated all the while glancing back over my shoulders to make sure he wasn’t following me.
Halfway back to the truck, the herd of Buffalo that was near the highway when I first started hiking had meandered up the hill towards the trail … toward me 😯. I quickened my pace and took great pleasure in photographing these beasts from the comfort of my vehicle. And that was the end to my attempts at hiking in the Black Hills last month. I’m getting too old for these wildlife encounters lol.
Girl, brush your hair!
A beautiful trail until I encountered the buffalo, No photo of him for obvious reasons.
3. Take in the past. The Black Hills is rich in American history and filled with tales of cowboys, pioneers, Indians, and more. Be sure and stop in at the various visitor centers and learn about the area’s history.
There’s gold in them thar hills! With the 7th US Cavalry unit confirming the discovery of gold, the 1875 gold rush occurred and thousands of European-Americans invaded the Black Hills and founded the towns of Deadwood, Lead, and Custer. By 1875, the Sioux had had enough and they fought for control of their land (which was rightly theirs by the Laramie Treaty). Lead by Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull, the Sioux made a valiant fight and gained victory at Little Big Horn. In the end, the US Army prevailed and the Sioux lost their land and were moved on to smaller reservations. In 1980, the United States Supreme Court ruled that the land was illegally taken and the US government was forced to pay for the land.
A visit to Mount Rushmore is a must
4. Of course, no visit to the southwest part of South Dakota would be complete without visiting Mount Rushmore. After all, it’s the American thing to do, as is visiting Crazy Horse Memorial … another worthwhile stop.
Mount Rushmore National Memorial is free to enter but you have to pay for parking ($10.00 in 2018). Upon entering the memorial, check out the Lincoln Borglum Visitor Center and watch the film about carving Mount Rushmore. After that, head out to the Presidential Trail to get a close-up view of the sculpture. The trail is a 0.6-mile loop with a few stairs. (Be sure and check the Mount Rushmore official website under “alerts” for any closures ahead of your visit so you won’t be disappointed.)
We visit Mount Rushmore. Me on the left, my daughter, Ashton, on the right.
Crazy Horse Memorial in the distance – Ashton being funny
My daughter and I really enjoyed visiting the Carver’s Studio and learned a great deal about Gutzon Borglum and how they managed to carve the mountain. You might also consider a Ranger program or stay for the illumination on Friday evenings and learn a little more about the history of the monument.
And best of all, eat some Thomas Jefferson’s Ice Cream. Without Thomas Jefferson, we may not have this delicious treat. Give your Mount Rushmore vacation a taste of the first recorded ice cream recipe in American history.
As long as you’re in South Dakota, you really should visit the world’s largest mountain carving; Crazy Horse Memorial. This is another monumental sculpture that is huge. If budget or time is a problem, Crazy Horse can easily be seen from Highway 385.
I recommend starting your visit at the Orientation Center. The short film, “Dynamite and Dreams,” will help you gain an introduction to the memorial and its history. Then walk through the Indian Museum of North American and Native American Cultural Center to learn about the American Indian heritage before heading out to the observation deck for views of the massive monument. For an additional fee, you can take a bus to the bottom of the monument for better views. Don’t forget to stop at the information desk to get a return ticket for the “Legends in Light” laser light show they perform in the evening from the end of May to the end of September.
And twice a year, you can actually hike to the top of Crazy Horse: Volksmarch hike. This is high on my ‘must-do’ list.
Somewhere back in one of my storage units in Colorado, I have photographs of Crazy Horse that my dad took during our family vacation to the Black Hills in the early ’70s. It would be fun to compare the progress via our photographs.
5. Outdoor recreation: Lakes, Hiking, fishing. I absolutely love the picturesque lakes around here. There are many lakes and streams perfect for fishing, boating, or picnicking lakeside, and they are all pristine in my opinion. During that 1970s family vacation, I thought Sylvan Lake was the most beautiful place that I had ever seen. My brother and I hiked and explored all around this stunning little lake. We were intrigued by the granite rock and boulders and the clean, clear, cool water.
We even rented one of those paddle boats. While my brother and I exercised our legs, my dad sat on the back of the paddle boat with a fishing line in the water. No surprise, dad brought his fishing gear on this summer vacation just like any other trip. Nothing like trolling via sustainable energy. Dad was great in giving my brother and me directions on where he wanted us to paddle and gave no thought to our weakening leg muscles, but after catching a couple of teenie tiny fish, dad had enough … our legs were saved thank goodness. Ah, the memories!
I couldn’t wait to share Sylvan Lake with my daughter and I tried to recreate the hike with her that my brother and I took all those years ago.
After the hike, we stopped in at the Sylvan Lake Lodge to check out what the park considers their crown jewel. You can picnic on the grounds or have lunch at the restaurant.
Another beautiful lake and one of my favorites is Stockade Lake. It’s the largest of five lakes in Custer State Park. You’ll find a couple of campgrounds nestled in the pines near the lake, as well as a day-use picnic area.
Hiking in the Black Hills
There is no storage of trails to hike in the Black Hills, but one of the most popular trails is to the highest peak in South Dakota; the Black Elk Peak which was formerly known as Harney Peak. Even though this trail is popular, my daughter and I did not find it easy considering it’s mostly uphill. There are gradual inclines and some flat surfaces at the beginning that leads to steep inclines and stairs. The trail is considered moderately difficult.
Historic building at the top of Black Elk Peak
Once you reach the 7,242-foot peak topped by a stone fire tower, you are rewarded with breathtaking views of the Black Hills National Forest. Be sure and take a break to have lunch at the top and enjoy the scenery. The fire lookout, dam, and pumphouse were built in 1939 and are listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
During my recent visit, I drove to the Mount Coolidge Lookout Tower. To get there, I turned off of Hwy 87 and continued up a 1.7-mile gravel road to the summit where I took in the views of the Black Hills. This site is 6,023 feet above the forest and is not for folks with a fear of heights. The gravel road is narrow in places with steep dropoffs and no guardrails, but the views are amazing. On a clear day, you can see Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse, and the Needles.
Towns of Spearfish and Deadwood
Spearfish is a cute little town from what we could gather, but we didn’t stop. We were here to drive Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway and take in the stunning landscape. With soaring limestone bluffs, a glistening creek, wildflowers, and three flowing waterfalls, it did not disappoint. The 20-mile byway is north of Custer State Park along Highway 14A and is an incredible road. Several scenes from the movie, “Dances With Wolves” were filmed in the canyon.
Next on our list was a visit to the historic town of Deadwood. Al and I are huge fans of the HBO series titled Deadwood and really looked forward to our visit.
Silly tourist activity!
Deadwood Main Street
The town is a throwback to the Wild West where gambling and bars are alive and well. Gamble in one of the many casinos and follow the footsteps of legendary characters like Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane. Although we enjoyed the day, we probably wouldn’t return. It’s a kitschy tourist town (in my humble opinion).
But a place I always look forward to visiting is …
Badlands National Park is most definitely a worthwhile visit. Be sure and spend at least one day exploring the 244,000 acres of this other-worldly landscape. Driving the 31-mile scenic Badlands Loop Road is an absolute must and do take advantage of every pull-off and overlook. Can you say photo-op?
Even better, take a few short hikes. If you have time get off the beaten path on Sage Creek Rim Road to look for buffalo and bighorn sheep. Make sure to check with a ranger on road conditions before taking the drive.
Just northwest of the Badlands National Park on I-90 is Wall Drug. It’s one of those roadside attractions that’s synonymous with American road trips.
A roadside attraction called Wall Drug. The story behind this place … Wall Drug started simply enough when Ted Hustead purchased the South Dakota town of Wall’s drugstore in 1931. But it was Ted’s wife Dorothy who hit upon the idea that changed not just the drugstore, but the entire 231-person town of Wall. The idea: ice water. In an attempt to attract people, Dorothy Hustead put up a sign advertising free ice water to parched tourists on their way to nearby attractions. It was a big hit. From then on Wall Drug grew under its own strange power, adding a bizarre assortment of fiberglass animals, including the iconic Wall Drug jackalope, giant dinosaurs, and an array of taxidermy jackalopes. And then there are the hundreds of photos and newspaper clippings adorning the walls from years ago. My husband could’ve spent hours just looking and reading all the old photos and memorabilia hanging on the walls.
If you are a honeymooner, veteran, priest, hunter, or truck driver, you can also get free coffee and donuts. They still give out ice water too. Some 20,000 cups a day. This is also a fun place for kids. Every 30 minutes the dinosaur inside comes to life and gives you a little show. Seriously, regardless of age, make sure you spend a couple of hours in this little eclectic town at least once.
Southwestern South Dakota has something to offer just about anyone, from young to old and everyone in-between. It’s one of those places that one visit may be enough, or if you are like us, once is not enough and we find ourselves wanting to return after every visit. It’s a fun place to take children with many more kid-friendly attractions than mentioned here.
There are some great restaurants, breweries, live entertainment, and plenty of outdoor activities. Lodging is available in all forms from basic campgrounds, to RV Resorts, to motels and hotels, as well as vacation rentals. Yep, the Black Hills is definitely a great vacation destination or place to spend just a few days while passing through.
Have you ever visited this part of South Dakota? If so, what was your favorite thing to see or do?
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Do you have a favorite RV travel destination? That’s a question we seem to be asked frequently and it’s not an easy one to answer. There are so many variables that make a place special and memorable. With that said, favorite destinations are truly a personal experience based on individual opinion. Of course, I do have a list of faves.
I have friends that have been brought to tears when they first set eyes on the Grand Canyon while others don’t see the big deal. In addition to the actual place, I feel a lot has to do with one’s frame of mind. For example, if you and your partner are quarreling or you have a child who’s being difficult, no matter how beautiful the scenery may be, you probably won’t have the fondest memories of that particular destination.
On the flip side, let’s say all the stars align, the sky is filled with rainbows, and you’re surrounded by dancing unicorns, even staying in a Cabela’s parking lot in Mitchell, South Dakota can turn into a fun and memorable place to spend a birthday. Yep, been there, done that!
A favorite destination; the Black Hills in South Dakota
I was around fourteen years old the first time I visited the southwest corner of the state of South Dakota. My parents had just upgraded from a popup travel trailer to a Class A Motorhome and this would be our first family vacation with the new RV. It would also be our first time traveling outside of the Midwest. We lived in the Chicago suburbs at the time, and our vacations for our family of five always revolved around my dad’s love of fishing in Wisconsin.
And guess where I am today? I’m back in Hayward, WI … the very place that I spent many childhood summer vacations, but that’s for another post.
That family vacation was an unforgettable trip to the Black Hills and Custer State Park. Ever since that trip, I had always wanted to return but didn’t get a chance until my daughter and I visited during the summer of 2010, and then I returned in 2015 with Al in tow. And guess what? I was recently able to return again in June of 2019.
A revisit to a favorite destination, but first a stop in Nebraska
Anytime I have an excuse to visit the Black Hills in South Dakota, I’m all in. Well, in reality, I don’t need an excuse but a reason sure does help with any trip route planning. And a fine reason we had on our trek from Arizona to Wisconsin to stop for a spell in the Black Hills in mid-June and connect with blogging pals. Once again, we were offered the opportunity to stay on private property from someone we had never met before. Oh yeah, twist my arm! I love my blog community. ❤
But first … Since we had well over 400 miles and nearly eight hours of driving time to get to our South Dakota destination, we broke up the drive into two days and knew just the place to overnight; the Cabela’s in Sidney, Nebraska. This is the original store and home to the founders of Cabela’s. Unfortunately, Bass Pro purchased Cabela’s in 2017 and closed the headquarters in Sidney putting a bunch of employees out of work. Sidney is a small town and this acquisition has had a definite impact on the community in a negative way.
Sure looks like Nebraska to me!
Great campsite at the Cabela’s in Sidney, Nebraska
Considering Al had a few outdoorsy things he wanted (when doesn’t he?), he thought he’d help the local economy by purchasing a few items. Ah, but we didn’t stop there. Since we would be boondocking at Jim and Barb’s, we opted to spend a little on a campsite and get a full hook-up site for the night in their campground in lieu of staying for free in the parking lot. (I think it was around $32 for the night) This is a great spot to overnight with numerous restaurants within easy walking distance and a Walmart just down the road. Plus, it’s super easy to get on and off Interstate 80.
Beautiful property with a unique building
The next day, we had no trouble finding Jim and Barb’s lovely property located not far from Custer State Park and Wind Cave National Park. We arrived just in time to reconnect with Jim and Diana whom I had previously met in Sedona this past April. They would be leaving the next morning. Needless to say, that evening we all enjoyed happy hour together … good conversation and tasty margaritas.
A barndominium in the works. Jim and Barb have been RVing full-time since 2014. A couple of years ago, they purchased their dream property in South Dakota and are now in the process of building a home … a unique home that is part barn (that will fit two RVs) and part house. Actually, it’s quite perfect for those of us that love RVing, and it’s something Al and I have often talked about building. Our problem is we can’t pick a location.
The more Jim blogged about their “barndominium”, the more I wanted to see it … and of course, meet Jim and Barb. It really is a great idea and will meet their needs perfectly. They still intend to continue RVing and traveling regularly.
A view of the build showcasing the beautiful location
Fishing Jim’s RV is in the background. Michigan Jim’s is in the foreground. We see the RV garage part of the building.
Al helps Jim install a window
Outside the living quarters
Inside the living area
(To enlarge photos in a gallery, simply click on any image)
During our five day visit, the building process needed to continue. While Barb ran errands (visiting lumber yards, picking up doors, etc.), Al helped “fishing Jim” install some windows. Why “fishing Jim”? When there are two different “Jim’s” on the premises, ya gotta have a way to differentiate the two. So while I call Jim, the property owner, “fishing Jim”, I call the visiting Jim, “Michigan Jim”. Seems to work when I’m communicating with my husband. He always knows which Jim I’m referring to, and yes, Al and Jim did talk fishing, but that was after the other Jim returned to Michigan.
So, while everyone was busy working on the barndominium, I went out exploring with my camera. Hey, I did my part by offering some very helpful and important tidbits. As a former home builder, I’m full of all kinds of useful (and non-useful) information.🤣
Actually, door swings, placement of electrical switches, and cabinet layout are rather important and I gave Barb some suggestions on how to ensure an end result that she’ll be happy with. I think we’ve all visited a place where the light switch is in an awkward location or even behind a door. It’s all about the planning and attention to little details and that’s my expertise. Oh, and I’m really good at pointing a finger and telling people what to do. Just ask Al!😏
However, it wasn’t all about the build. We did have time for some fun together. One evening we saw a comedic play at the Black Hills Playhouse. Another day, Al and Jim did some backroad exploring with the Jeep and then Jim took me on a 4×4 drive in the four-wheeler in search of photo-ops. This image is for you Jim.
A great campsite
Our five-day stay in the Black Hills whizzed by. We would’ve loved to stay longer, but 1. we didn’t want to overstay our welcome having just met these lovely folks in person for the first time, and 2. rain was expected and with rain comes a very muddy driveway … that’s the real reason we bid farewell. If it hadn’t been for the impending rain, they may never have gotten rid of us … but shhh, don’t tell them that or we may not be welcome back.
Come on, with a campsite like this, why would we be in a hurry to move on? It’s obvious why Jim and Barb fell in love with the property. If it weren’t so darn far away from our children and the winters weren’t so nasty cold, we would consider buying land in the area. Yes, we really do like the Black Hills that much … in the summer, that is.
Thank you, Jim and Barb for opening your home to us. We enjoyed meeting you, hanging out, and hope to do it again. Oh, and let’s not forget about the handsome neighbors.
But why are South Dakota’s Black Hills one of my favorite vacation destinations? I’ll share more photos and information about the area in my next post.
There are lots of things that I love about RVing and near the top of that list is traveling with my home in tow. I sleep in my own bed, cook in my own kitchen, and have all my necessities within easy reach around me. All the comforts of home with an ever-changing yard, but that’s not the best part…
Our journey continues
It was day two of our summer excursion. The day before was a long nine-hour drive from Phoenix, Arizona to Santa Fe, New Mexico. I’m grateful Al and I slept well and woke up with energy. Sleeping in our own bed makes a huge difference and the good night’s sleep had us ready to tackle another long day of driving.
It was a little before 6:00 a.m. when I put the kettle on the RV stove to heat the water for coffee. When we’re boondocking and other RVs are nearby, we won’t start our generator this early in the morning so that we could use our drip coffee maker. (This post contains affiliate links) So, when I don’t have the power for the Cuisinart coffee maker, I use the pour-over coffee brewing method … just as tasty.
After a quick breakfast and one cup down, we were once again rolling with our second cup of coffee in our travel mugs. We knew we had at least a six-hour drive in front of us and a destination that was new to us. Even though we were familiar with the general area, we weren’t familiar with the specific piece of private property where we’d be spending the week.
The best thing about RVing
If you follow other RV blogs, join any RVing Facebook groups, or read any RV Forums, then you’ve probably heard from others that as much as we all enjoy the freedom of the RV lifestyle, most of us will agree that the best thing about RVing is the people we meet and the friendships that are made. It’s the best, and it’s unlike any other lifestyle.
There’s something about the camaraderie of the RVing community that turns complete strangers into true friends in a short amount of time.
Al and I spent our winter in an RV Park in Phoenix. Many of our neighbors were doing the same while others were there for shorter time frames. One such neighbor, Dick and Steph, were only there for a couple of months. They were on a snowbird trial run to test out the desert southwest with their RV. (By the way, they loved it and will return to Phoenix next winter.)
Noticing their Colorado license plates, I was quick to stop and chat to see what part of Colorado they were from. Turns out they live just west of where we used to live in southern Colorado. During one of their last days in the park, we discussed our upcoming summer travel plans. When I made mention that we’d be in their neck of the woods near the beginning of June to tackle our storage units, they were quick to offer their property as a place for us to stay.
Seriously? These were folks we barely knew and yet they were offering us the opportunity to stay on their land for as long as we needed to. Well, twist my arm! This scenario was so much better than staying at the Lake Pueblo State Park where we’d need reservations to get us through the busy weekends. Dealing with those storage units would be stressful enough without adding in the stress of a time frame.
The only real downside was the distance. The state park was only a fifteen-minute drive to the storage facility while Dick and Steph’s place would be over an hours drive. We’ll take it!
An emotional, yet fun week
After getting settled in and getting acquainted with Dick and Steph’s beautiful home and property, it was time to take the hour and twenty-minute drive to the storage facility. We spent about five-hours that first-day pulling box by box out of the jam-packed unit on the left.
The next day, we spent four grueling hours going through more boxes. The task was a combination of tedious, grueling, and emotional which lead to a much-needed break on day three.
Our day off
Even though we had previously lived in southern Colorado and knew all about Bishop Castle, Al and I hadn’t personally visited. So Dick recommended the four of us enjoy a scenic drive to a castle.
Dick, Al, and Steph on the rear deck.
Al and me in front of the castle
Hmm … it’s an interesting structure surrounded by a lot of controversy. I don’t think it’s an attraction I would recommend driving out of the way to see, but since we were somewhat in the area, I found it to be a unique sight and fun day with our friends.
I do question the safety of the structure which is why government officials have tried to stop Mr. Bishop from keeping it open to the public. If you have even the slightest fear of heights, I wouldn’t recommend exploring the inside of the building. Nor would I recommend visiting with children even though we saw quite a few.
I don’t necessarily agree with some of the county’s tactics to close Mr. Bishop and his castle down, but I do understand the concerns. When we lived in Colorado, I remember watching our local news channel and hearing about Mr. Bishop’s problems with local law enforcement and county officials. Talk about an interesting story!
After our enjoyable day off, we had one more day at storage. Whew! We were sure glad when that task was done. We did widdle our stuff down to 1 1/2 units. Part of that half will be going to our children (at their request) which means we’ll be moving all our stuff to Phoenix. Nope, I’m not even going to talk about the plan to move everything from Pueblo to Phoenix this fall for fear of breaking out in hives from stress.
Perhaps I should do a blog post on How not to move into your RV full-time. Do as I say, not as I do!!! 🙄
Once the storage job was complete, we weren’t in any hurry to move on. After all, we had a full hook-up RV site and it was free … awesome! But the best part was hanging out with Dick and Steph and enjoying the amazing views. Our next few days were filled with laughs, good food, and great company. They even invited us to revisit anytime … always a good sign that we didn’t overstay our welcome.
We reluctantly bid farewell to our Cotopaxi, Colorado friends, and look forward to spending more time hanging out together this winter when all of us return to the Pioneer RV Park in Phoenix, Arizona.
Our next stop found us back in some familiar territory and making new friends. Once again, the common thread of RVing and this little blog of mine lead to a great overnight on private property just east of Colorado Springs. Kathy has been following my blog for a while even though she doesn’t write one herself. In the past, she has commented on various posts and we’ve even communicated via email.
She and her husband were full-time RVers for about a year. Their intent was always to purchase another home near Colorado Springs when their other house sold. Thus, while their new home was being built, they traveled around in their RV. Al and I knew very little about her and her husband, but to sum up our experience with our new friends, we enjoyed our visit so much so that we almost stayed another night, but we had plans which involved a time frame. By the way, their home and property are beautiful and we hope to reconnect with these fellow RVers sometime down the road.
RVing is a great way to travel and see the country, and although the list of things I love about the RV lifestyle is long, at the top of my favorites list are the people we meet. However, I’d be remiss if I failed to mention the fabulous friends I’ve made via this RV blog who have also offered up their property and friendship.
During our RVing journey, we’ve met so many fine people that we enjoy hanging out with, as well as have developed some really amazing friendships … the kind of friends that I know would drive out of their way to come help us if we asked and we would do the same. Those kinds of relationships are rare and special … thank you!
Next up – South Dakota and meeting blogging pals for the first time!
Our summer journey began at the end of May. We finally lifted the jacks on the RV and got those wheels rolling again. It felt great being back on the open road. After sitting stationary for nearly seven months, we felt like total RV newbies but after a couple of hours of driving, we quickly found our groove.
Never too old to change!
Aren’t most people creatures of habit? I know Al and I are. He and I have been doing this full-time RVing thing for over six years now (so much for a year or two), and as such, we have a basic routine when it comes to a day of travel which includes hitting the road in the morning usually around 8:00 a.m. … nine at the very latest and driving no more than five hours. A drive of three to four hours is preferable.
Our original plan was to start our summer excursion on the Wednesday after Memorial Day (May 29th). Over the long holiday weekend, we bid farewell to our children who both live in Phoenix which then gave us the flexibility to leave town when it best suited us. We were able to adjust the schedule if needed.
Although we had a well-planned itinerary, the plan kept changing at the last minute. Obviously, we were anxious to be on the road again with a firm destination in mind.
Plan A – Leave early Wednesday morning and take three days to get to Cotopaxi, CO.
Plan B – Leave late Tuesday afternoon, drive two hours and spend the night at the Twin Arrows Casino east of Flagstaff. This would shorten the next two days.
And then there’s what we actually did, which is so out of character for us and something we’ve never done before, ever. Guess we aren’t too old to change things up a bit and step out of our comfort zone. We did end up leaving around noon on Tuesday, but once we neared the exit for the Petrified Forest, we weren’t ready to stop for the night. Plus, the Arizona / New Mexico border was just a little over an hour away. We figured, the more driving we did that day, the less we’d have to do the next two days.
In lieu of spending the night near the Petrified Forest, we decided to stop at any number of Indian Casinos along Interstate 40 in New Mexico, which we’ve done frequently in the past. As our day progressed and with each passing casino, Al and I would agree to keep on rolling. We eventually made it to the Route 66 Casino on the western edge of Albuquerque. The sun was about to set. It was around 8:30 p.m. We’d had a very long day of driving and were feeling ready to stop. We filled up with gas and began talking about spending the night. We planned to call it a day and boondock here, but then we discussed the next morning.
Grrr, we needed to think about morning rush hour traffic. We used to love overnighting at the beautiful Sandia Casino located on the north end of Albuquerque which would solve the problem of navigating rush hour traffic in the morning, but inconsiderate RVers ruined that privilege. We’ve noticed this ongoing theme as more and more companies are banning overnight RV parking. Some RVers don’t understand boondocking etiquette 😪. Ah, it is what it is and with the Sandia Casino not an option, we decided to go for it and continue driving another hour up the road to Santa Fe.
So much for the travel itinerary
485 miles / 775 km and nine hours later, we pulled into the parking lot at the Elks Lodge in Santa Fe (for members only). It was 10:00 p.m. with pitch dark skies. We were grateful that we had stayed here previously and knew the lay of the land. We quietly (well, as quietly as a diesel truck can be) pulled alongside a grassy area while trying not to disturb the other RVs already parked nearby. We didn’t disconnect, didn’t bother leveling, and didn’t put our slides out. We merely climbed into bed, clearly exhausted from the long day of driving, and quickly fell asleep. We both slept great. The next morning, with coffee in hand, we were once again rolling. This time, we were watching the sunrise.
So much for planning and putting together a perfect travel itinerary! We don’t normally make it a habit to drive after dark let alone put in a nine-hour day of driving, but Al and I stopped often and switched drivers regularly. Not that we were keeping track, but I believe I spent more time behind the wheel than Al did 😁
In the end, we both agree, it turned into the perfect travel day for us. Sure we were tired, but the beauty of traveling with your home in tow was we ate healthily and stayed hydrated … a must for any long day of travel. And of course, we took plenty of breaks to stretch our legs.
The main reason behind the quick travels was we had a goal and a mission to accomplish and wanted to get it over with as quickly as possible so we could get on with our summer fun. The weight on our shoulders needed to be lifted asap. We had two storage units in southern Colorado full of crap momentoes that we needed to widdle down and eventually get moved to Phoenix.
Next up, moochdocking on a gorgeous property in Colorado while we tackle those storage units.